Why do birds migrate?

(C) David Tipling/2020VISION

Why do birds migrate?

The word ‘migration’ refers to the large-scale movement of animals. Birds migrate in order to find more food, or to nest. However, not all birds need to migrate as they may already be in an area where the climate is stable - so there is enough food available all year round.

Let’s use pink footed geese as an example! 

Pink-footed geese spend their summers raising chicks in the Arctic, in Iceland, Greenland and on Svalbard. As the nights draw in and food becomes scarce, the geese take flight as a family and migrate down to Europe (either the UK, the Netherlands or Belgium). Like all swans, ducks and geese, they travel in flocks and learn the route from their family. 

To us, the UK in the winter is cold, wet and grey, to a pink-footed goose it’s just the opposite! They’ll head to top wintering grounds, like Montrose Basin in Scotland or the north Norfolk Coast. During the day, they will feast upon potatoes, grass and cereals that are growing in fields (don’t worry, they’re not going to steal your cornflakes). At night, they rise to the skies in great flocks and cram together on marshes, safe from predators like foxes. You might have seen them flying over in the iconic ‘v’ shape honking noisily. 

Whether flying from the south to breed in the spring, or from the north in the winter in search of food and milder climes, or simply passing through on their journey, bird migration is one of the UK’s most impressive natural events. Want to witness the comings and goings of flocks over the year?

Find out the best places to see migrating birds across the UK on the Wildlife Trusts web page here.

In Derbyshire, the best spot for migrating birds is at our Carr Vale Nature Reserve.

Carr Vale - The mixture of wetlands, grassland and trees attracts a rich variety of birds throughout the year, with a number of rare species recorded such as Caspian tern and Sabine's gull. In September, swallows gather in a pre-migration roost of 1-2,000 birds, often attracting hunting hobbies. In winter, large numbers of wildfowl feed on the wetlands and grassland.